From the archives | What makes a great food blog?

From the archives

What makes a great food blog?

So many people are blogging about food these days so how do you stand out from the crowd? This weekend’s sessions at Food Blogger Connect - and my own observations - suggest a few answers.

What do the best blogs have in common? Your blog can’t be all things to all people - if you’re serious and scholarly your text won’t be peppered with smart one-liners. If it’s based on your life at home with small children it won’t be filled with exotic foreign trips.

Taking it for granted that your blog looks good and that your recipes work (er hem . . .) here are some qualities I reckon a blog needs to attract a big audience. You can’t embrace all of them but if you’re ambitious for your blog you should take on board at least some:

Stories

Perhaps the most important thing I took away from Food Blogger Connect is that the best blogs tell great stories. Two presentations drove it home - a talk from Niamh Shields where she had to extemporise when her audio visual presentation wouldn’t work so she simply stood up and chatted about the quirky things she’d come across on her recent trip to Canada. (When the technical issues were resolved her presentation was just as good - and that’s what makes her blog, Eat Like a Girl, so strong)

And Penny de los Santos*, a journalist-turned-photographer who tells powerful stories with her pictures. She tells equally mesmerising tales about taking them, such as the time she spent nine days inside a prison in Mexico and the struggle she had to get the authorities to let her in.

What has this got to do with food? Everything. Tell the story behind the recipe you’re sharing. There a hundreds of thousands of cake recipes out there. If you post one make it clear why it’s special to you.

Passion

An over-used word. We’re all passionate about food but can we convey it in a distinctive way? The best food blogs can. They make you want to cook the food, eat at the restaurant, visit the place. They do not shriek OMG!, YUMMY!!! and - God forbid - nom, nom, nom. Read Helen Graves’ blog Food Stories if you want to see passion applied to an unlikely place, the south London neighbourhood of Peckham.

Integrity

The best food blogs are not littered with giveaways, blogger challenges and accounts of blogger events. That’s not to say don’t do them if you enjoy them - I offer a monthly prize on my site, come to that - but to write about something that a dozen other bloggers are covering is not going to make you unique. Yes, you’re right, newspapers and magazines do it too - the world is PR led - but it doesn’t make for great journalism any more than great blogging.

It’s your movie, don’t be in someone else’s . . . (My husband’s favourite piece of advice to the children.)

Authority

Good blogs radiate know-how even though they may pass it on in an accessible, easy-to-read way. David Lebovitz knows Paris (and pastry), Giulia Scarpaleggia of Juls Kitchen, Tuscany and, an interesting new find, Michael Kiser of Good Beer Hunting, beer (of course). When you’ve read their posts you’ve learnt something. If you aren’t a natural extrovert draw people to your blog by researching your subject as well as you can.

Bravery

In other words a willingness to stick your head above the parapet. Don’t try and be all things to all people. Don’t be afraid to ruffle feathers. I don’t mean of course that your blog should be gratuitously offensive but don’t let it become bland.

There’s absolutely no harm in expressing a controversial viewpoint and expressing it vigorously, a stock in trade of the exuberant Ms Marmitelover and the lesser known Jack Monroe of A Girl Called Jack, a young blogger who’s made an immense impact in a very short time. She was invited to the G8 to talk about living on the breadline, for goodness sake.

Flaws

This might sound surprising but it was a point made by David Lebovitz and he made it well. Don’t feel your blog - and especially your pictures - have to be perfect. Admit those recipes that went wrong, snap those plates you were half way through eating when you remembered you were supposed to shoot them. Your audience will identify with that and love you for it.

Humanity

Some people bare their souls more than others. If it doesn’t suit you, don’t but what keeps on making me come back to certain blogs is their frankness and honesty. Two examples: Esther Walker’s Recipe Rifle which I suppose is not strictly a food blog but a mummy blog and Emma Gardner’s sometimes painfully revealing Poires au Chocolat although this has other virtues too - including beautiful, original photography and painstakingly tested recipes.

Generosity

Respected food bloggers acknowledge their sources and inspiration. They do not nick recipes without attribution. They praise other cooks and writers, especially up-and-coming ones. They acknowledge and reply to their readers (unless they’re rude and arsey in which case they stamp firmly all over them).

Humour

Not everyone has the ability to make people laugh and if it doesn’t come easily don’t force it but the most effective food blogs for me are the ones who make me smile. Often at the author’s own expense. Again, look at the blogs I’ve mentioned already, David Lebovitz, Eat Like A Girl, Ms Marmitelover, Recipe Rifle and, a wine blog you might enjoy - the award-winning Knackered Mother’s Wine Club - a great example of what you can do with short posts.

Discipline

Discipline might sound an odd word to use of a food blog - maybe professionalism would be better - but the top bloggers post regularly. Not tooo regularly but at least once a week. That requires forward planning if posts are not to be a hastily cobbled together scrawl (an art form in which I specialise). More on this tomorrow . . .

If you missed my first post in this mini-series (goodness knows what possessed me to embark on this) on What Motivates Food Bloggers, it’s here. Tomorrow the practical steps you - and I - can take to make our blogs and websites better. Should you want to . . .

What do you think makes a great food blog and which ones would you single out?

* You can also see her expound her philosophy in this TEDx talk in Austin.

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Comments: 7 (Add)

Ren Behan on July 11 2013 at 12:37

Wow, this resonated: "The world is PR led - but it doesn’t make for great journalism any more than great blogging." and "It’s your movie, don’t be in someone else’s" A really significant point to think about, I think, as so much of it (PR led posts) dictate the direction that we take in blogging. Do we keep it organic by creating original content or do we spend all our time banging on about someone else's product? Emma (Poires au Chocolat) greatly inspired me on Friday and she has a no-PR policy. So many great points to consider here, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Knackered Mother on July 9 2013 at 11:18

Thank you for including my blog, feel very honoured! Great post, am off to discover some new food blogs...

Fiona Beckett on July 8 2013 at 14:54

That's a great couple of blogs, Sally. I too just discovered The Daily Spud but didn't know about Silver Suppers. What a brilliant idea for a blog!

Glad it was useful, Robyn - nice blog! I see you've got more out of Blogger than I ever have!

Was sorry to miss the last day, Magda, but yes, would agree with that warning about advertising. And like the look of that beetroot soup!

Laura@howtocookgoodfood on July 8 2013 at 14:47

I am amazed at how well you can summarise FBC whilst I am still just mulling it over in my head!
I love to read all manner of food blogs but usually like them to have a normal touch. I suppose I like to think I can relate to who I am reading somehow and I certainly don't try to visit the super perfect photography sites as I find it makes me feel too mediocre!
I think stories are vital, even just a couple of sentences well written is enough for me.If I like what they say, I will be back as for me, it's the writing that pulls me in more than anything. I am the same with cook books.
Thanks for this and the previous post, an ideal blogger's bookmark :)

Magda - midnightspoon.com on July 8 2013 at 14:21

Great summary Fiona, worth printing out and sticking on the fridge for a while until all the great ideas come through.
I found the last day sessions about branding especially intense and learnt :'be careful of what you're advertising on your blog'! For a blogging beginner like me it's a precious piece of advise.
See you all next year!

Robyn @ Simply Fresh Dinners on July 8 2013 at 13:54

Thanks, Fiona, I will be looking forward to reading your next posts. I found this extremely helpful, informative and some good reminders in there as well. Great job.

Sally - My Custard Pie on July 8 2013 at 13:28

So brilliantly summarised and I have to say we are on the same wavelength as the examples you give are all people I admire for exactly the same reason. Discovered The Daily Spud this weekend at FBC - would include Aoife in the sense of humour category as well as Silver Screen Suppers (Jenny is also in the authority category writing about recipes originating from Hollywood stars of the past). I can't believe you ever get together a 'hastily cobbled together scrawl' as this excellent series shows! And what a wise saying from husband....well worth printing out and repeating when multiple distractions, offers, ideas, invites and please inundate.

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